Living with the Sony Vaio P
I’ve had a Sony Vaio P in the office for a few weeks now, but it was only this last weekend that I really put it through its paces. I was going away for a few days and wanted a computer with me. The P was the computer of choice because it was small enough to fit in my tiny day sack easily and light enough not to weigh me down.
The Vaio P rivals netbooks in terms of portability and specs but not price. It comes in six models the least expensive of which will set you back £850 (Inc VAT). Sony doesn’t call the Vaio P a netbook and to be fair the lack of willingness to use the name isn’t just about snobbery. The P series notebooks offer more than the average netbook does, including built in SIM support for mobile 3G (the SIM card slot is under the battery), and support for Draft-N wireless as well as superb build quality.
Our full review brought up a few shortcomings in comparison to both netbooks and standard notebooks. And I found the Vaio P to be unsatisfactory in one very important regard. It screen.
Its 1600 x 768 pixels deliver a nice, wide view and the quality is excellent. But I found it difficult to do actual work on.
Web browsing was fiddly. If I increased the text size to a readable level there wasn’t enough height on view for my taste. I took a lot of photos and wanted to view them, label them, and maybe even upload them to the Web. The SD card slot on the Vaio P made this entirely feasible, but the 85mm of height the screen offers didn’t really give me enough space to see the pictures in all their glory and make decisions on which to keep and which to delete. So that task went by the wayside.
And I hit another problem with the screen. Instead of putting a SIM into the slot under the battery, I decided to use my Vodafone Mobile Broadband USB Stick in one of the two USB ports. The software installed into Windows Vista with no trouble at all, but its main window did not render properly to the screen. The ‘Connect’ button was barely there at all. Luckily I knew what I was looking for.
Where the screen was irritating, the keyboard was superb. The individual keys are responsive and touch-typing wasn’t anywhere near as much of a challenge as I have found it to be on some netbooks. There’s no room for a touchpad. Instead there is a pointing stick which you can tap to make a left click. Or you can use the two tiny mouse buttons at the bottom of the keyboard. Unfortunately fine control was eye-wateringly tricky, especially when I used the Vaio P on a train, thanks to the tiny icons on screen.
Battery life was, not surprisingly perhaps, fairly poor. When online I was able to get an hour or so in before needing to recharge. This was fine as I was always near mains power, but I wouldn’t like to rely on the Vaio P when away from a power source.
More worryingly Vista seemed unhappy when working with my mobile broadband dongle switched on. It wasn’t too keen on retaining a steady signal and there were enough crashes for me to get pretty irritated. The Atom processor and 2MB of RAM obviously struggled at times.
I barely used the Linux powered instant-on environment which could have saved battery power, but that was because I did a bit of word processing, spreadsheeting, and other stuff that the Linux system did not support. It is good for Web surfing, viewing (but not editing or renaming) pictures, listening to music and watching video. Think entertainment rather than productivity.
Overall, then, I was initially hooked by the 0.6Kg of weight and 245mm x 120mm x 19.8mm dimensions as well as the super build quality. When it came to actual usability I had issues mostly with the screen ergonomics but also with battery life. There is definitely better computing you can get for the price. But I bet Sony will still sell plenty Vaio Ps.